U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a bold new audit initiative in 2009 to combat the problem of hiring of an illegal workforce.
On March 2, 2010, 180 businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee were served with Notice of Inspections (NOIs) indicating that ICE would inspect their hiring records (Form I-9) to determine whether they are in accordance with the employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.
Audits involve a comprehensive review of Form I-9s. Form I-9 must be completed and retained for each new hire. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), all employers must verify that every person that is hired is either: a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a foreign national with authorization to work in the U.S. Within three business days of beginning the job, a new employee must furnish identity and employment eligibility documents (i.e., passport, permanent resident card, employment authorization card, driver’s license, birth certificate, military id, etc). It is the responsibility of the employer to examine the documents to determine whether they are genuine and relate to the specific employee. Once the I-9 form is completed, they are to be kept in office for the longer of three years after employment begins or one year after employment is terminated. Most importantly, if an employee has temporary employment authorization, a re-verification of employment eligibility must be conducted prior to expiration of the employment authorization.
DHS/ICE officers conduct an estimated 60,000 I-9 audits a year on employers around the country and have issued fines in excess of $1,000,000. Additionally, each mistake on an I-9 Form counts as a separate violation. All employers are further subject to civil and criminal penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ aliens who are not authorized to work in the U.S.
In the News Release announcing the issuance of the NOIs, Raymond R. Parmer, Jr. acting special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Orleans stated that “ICE is committed to establishing a meaningful I-9 inspection program to promote compliance with the law. This effort is a first step in ICE’s long-term strategy to address and deter illegal employment.”
Accurate completion of I-9 forms is a good faith defense to a charge of hiring unauthorized workers. Therefore, the best way for an employer to avoid IRCA problems is to establish a meaningful I-9 audit system.